After spending three years preparing to become the next president and CEO of the National Association for Behavioral Healthcare, Shawn Coughlin is hitting the ground running.
Coughlin was officially announced as the successor to longtime NABH president and CEO Mark Covall in October, when Covall announced his retirement, effective Dec. 31. Covall spent 35 years with the association, including 24 years in its top position, and will now serve a two-year term on the NABH board of directors.
Coughlin joined NABH as its executive vice president for government relations and public policy in 2017 after being approached by Covall with a proposed succession plan. Coughlin previously served as a lobbyist for the association on Capitol Hill.
“I came on board and have worked hand in glove with [Covall] for the last three years in house, and I feel really good about moving forward,” Coughlin tells BHE. “I’ve gotten a great sense of membership. I’ve had the good fortune of being able to meet every one of our board members and touring many of our facilities. I’m just very pleased to be here.
“It’s obviously a very exciting time in the behavioral health field. There is a lot going on legislatively. I would say there has never been more of a need for our member services, and I’m just happy to be in a place where I can help influence public policy in the process.”
Coughlin has set an aggressive agenda for 2020, focused on the following areas:
Managed care. Coughlin says he wants NABH to continue its efforts started in 2019 to address managed care contracts, which have been a particularly challenging pain point for members across the continuum of care.
“We’ve been hearing from our members that there are real problems with access, and we’ve known that for some time,” he says. “There’s a lot going on out there in which the managed care companies are engaged in activities that are not within the spirit of the law of parity. It’s something we’re going to continue to focus on and raise awareness of and try to get this to change.
Medicare conditions of participation. Coughlin notes that Medicare’s conditions of participation for psychiatric hospitals, have not been comprehensively updated since their creation in 1966, undergoing only minor revisions in the 1980s. The conditions “no longer reflect current best practices, and they create a huge barrier to access to care for individuals,” Coughlin says.
Workforce needs. A shortage of qualified practitioners in behavioral health has been a perennial issue, Coughlin says. “The needs are dramatic at all levels of practitioners for all levels of care,” he says. “We’re going to be paying a lot of attention and trying to think outside the box to come up with some new, creative ways to increase that workforce.”
Coughlin adds that NABH will also continue its efforts to advocate for the elimination of Medicare’s 190-day lifetime limit on inpatient psychiatric hospital care, and also to pursue initiatives that reduce stigma.
“Irrespective of whether Congress is actually fully engaged or distracted by their daily who’s up/who’s down, these are real problems we’re going to be more aggressively engaged in and more actively pursuing strategies to keep reminding them these are problems that haven’t fully gone away,” he says. “It’s well past time for them to be addressed. We’ll be more aggressively and actively engaged moving forward here.”